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Super-illas! Barcelona Plans for its Sustainable Future

  • Barcelona
  • conservation
  • Environment
  • innovation
  • wild roof garden

Wild rooftop gardens? Check. Urban spaces turning green? Check. Insect hotels?! Barcelona’s drive to increase their green footprint is gaining traction, with the city beginning to see a regeneration of its urban spaces.

One of the more innovative city planning methods being used by the city is the introduction of “superillas”. The term derives from the Catalan word meaning “superblocks”, zones that restrict vehicle speeds and prioritise pedestrian traffic. The first superilla was introduced back in 2016 in Poblenou, in the north of the city, and has since seen incredibly positive results. Building on this success, city mayor Ada Colau recently announced plans to expand superilles across the city. The ten-year plan laid out by the mayor back in November 2020 sets aside 21 streets in the Eixample district, creating an even bigger superblock structure.

Barcelona’s superblocks only represent one part of the city’s green regeneration plans. Rooftop gardens – a small but impressive part of the city’s rewilding efforts – have begun to pop up across the city’s landscape. Architect Sergio Carratalá and his MataAlta Studio designed Xifré’s Roof, a floating wild garden located on top of a block of buildings. According to a report by urbanNext, the project “restored the original elements of the historic building,” and, in turn, created a wild garden that “enhances urban biodiversity” in the area.

The wild roof garden is an example of how urban biodiversity can successfully be implemented, even in densely populated cities like Barcelona. “With more than 40 plant species and nearly 10,000 plants,” species chosen due to their ability to provide year-round blooming and nesting opportunities for local wildlife, “the garden features mostly native perennial plants that were chosen for being aromatic, pollinator friendly, drought resistant, pollution-filtering and disease resistant.” The garden also provides a social space for the building’s residents, proving that heading towards a greener city isn’t achieved at the cost of its people.

Why Barcelona?

Generating a community-focused ethos surrounding sustainable food initiatives is a crucial part of Barcelona’s conservation efforts, especially in 2021. This year, Barcelona takes centre stage as the World Sustainable Food Capital, a year-long programme of over ninety sustainable food projects and policies encouraging sustainable food practices. The city also supports urban agriculture through its Greenery and Biodiversity Plan for 2020, celebrated as a “window to the countryside that raises awareness of agricultural principles, improves physical and mental health, and builds community.” Community allotments, agricultural workshops – even the balconies of Barcelona’s historic buildings – are sites for urban greening and conservation efforts.

Barcelona is leading the way on sustainable urban planning, too. The success found with superillas has influenced city planning in Seattle in the United States, where traffic calming measures and pedestrianising efforts are reimagining how the city functions for those that live in it.

Making life better for residents is at the centre of Barcelona’s efforts. As Mayor Colau says, it’s time to “think about the new city for the present and the future – with less pollution, new mobility and new public spaces.” A promising future indeed!

By Alexander Stubbs

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